With every team having played two Premiership fixtures between Thursday and Sunday, all the clubs have now played 19 of their 38 matches, making this the half-way point of the season. To review last week’s action and preview the New Year’s Day games, for this post I am going to go through the teams in the order in which they currently stand in the Premiership table.
1. Arsenal – 42 points
On Boxing Day, Arsenal made the short trip to east London to face West Ham and recovered from a goal down early in the second-half to come away with a 3-1 victory, with two goals from Theo Walcott and another from Lukas Podolski, returning to the fray after an injury had kept him out since the end of August. On Sunday, the Gunners maintained their position at the top of the table with a 1-0 away win against Newcastle, with Oliver Giroud netting his 11th goal of the season, but the French striker is expected to miss the New Year’s Day visit of Cardiff due to injury, as are Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs.
2. Manchester City – 41 points
With two home fixtures over the festive period, it was somewhat inevitable that City would pick up six points and maintain their 100% Premiership record at the Etihad this season, though both of their wins were far from easy. Against Liverpool, they fell behind to a Phillipe Coutinho goal, but were ahead by half-time thanks to Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo, then managed to hold on for the victory despite substantial pressure from the visitors. Last Saturday in their match with Crystal Palace, Manuel Pelligirini’s men were kept at bay until Edin Dzeko broke the deadlock in the 66th minute for the only goal of the game, the first time all season that City have scored less than twice at home. They were also somewhat fortunate to stop Palace from scoring in that match, since Cameron Jerome collided with Joe Hart in the first half, leaving the England keeper with restricted vision due to a cut around his eye, but he managed to see well enough to stop Tony Pulis’ men from getting past him. On January 1st, City will leave the comforts of Manchester to head to south Wales for a match with Swansea, a fixture in which they were held to a draw last season.
3. Chelsea – 40 points
Chelsea were far from their best in both their Boxing Day encounter with Swansea, and their match with Liverpool three days later, yet on both occasions they did enough to pick up the three points and are now just two points off the leaders in the Premiership. Eden Hazard scored the only goal of the game against the Welsh club, then it was his brilliant strike on Sunday that wiped out Liverpool’s early lead, with Samuel Eto’o getting the winner in the 34th minute. Chelsea will see in 2014 with a trip to Southampton, a fixture they lost 2-1 last season.
4. Everton – 37 points
There is a danger for the clubs from Everton on down that the title race could soon become a three-horse race, as a three-point gap now exists between the Toffees and third place Chelsea. The reason for that deficit is that on Boxing Day, Everton lost at home for the first time in 2013 as they were beaten 1-0 by the bottom club, Sunderland. There were mitigating circumstances to the loss however, as goalkeeper Tim Howard was sent off in the 22nd minute for a professional foul on Ki, who converted the penalty, and the Black Cats were able to hold onto their slim lead against 10 men for the remainder of the match. Normal order at Goodison Park was restored on Sunday, as Everton beat Southampton 2-1 thanks to a 74th minute winner by Romelu Lukaku, which moved them up into the Champions League qualification places. Roberto Martinez’s men, who travel to Stoke on New Year’s Day, look like contenders for a top four finish, though they probably do not have a strong enough squad to maintain a challenge for the Premiership crown.
5. Liverpool – 36 points
On Christmas Day, Liverpool stood on the top of the Premiership, a point ahead of Arsenal and in a position of strength as the last four teams to be in first place on December 25th have gone on to win the title. The last time a club failed to maintain that position was in the 2008/9 campaign, when Manchester United ended up as Champions, but the team on top at Christmas was…Liverpool. History could repeat itself – though United look very unlikely to be the team who could take advantage of the Reds not staying at the top – as they found themselves dropped down to fifth place inside a week due to those two 2-1 defeats away at Manchester City and Chelsea. They return to Anfield, where they have won their last six, on January 1st for the visit of Hull, who beat them 3-1 a month ago at the KC Stadium (all of the New Year’s day fixtures are the return matches of the round of games that were played on the weekend of November 30th/December 1st).
6. Manchester United – 34 points
In the lunch time kick off on Boxing Day, Manchester United appeared to be sluggish from eating too much turkey at the start of their game with Hull and they found themselves 2-0 down within 13 minutes. However, David Moyes men quickly recovered and were back to level terms by the 26th minute, as a Chris Smalling header and a wonder strike from Wayne Rooney eradicated the home team’s early advantage, before a second-half own goal from former United player Jamie Chester – who made only one first-team appearance during his time at Old Trafford – gave the visitors all three points. On Saturday, the Red Devils made it six wins in a row in all competitions, as they overcame a poor performance in their trip to Norwich to earn a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal by Danny Welbeck, while on New Year’s Day, they face the team just below them in the table…
7. Tottenham Hotspur – 34 points
There was something very familiar about Tottenham’s Boxing day encounter with West Brom, as they struggled to break a team down, then when they did, almost immediately the lead was given away by some mediocre defending and two points were ultimately dropped. However, there were still positives to be taken from Tim Sherwood’s forward thinking approach to games and the goal they scored was from a spectacular free-kick by Christian Eriksen, giving the Dane – who has been really impressive in the last few fixtures and if you watch Spurs matches as regularly as I do, you cannot help but be excited by such a player – his first Premiership goal. Everything came together for Tottenham on Sunday, as they once again dominated a match but this time took enough of their chances for a comfortable 3-0 victory over Stoke, although somewhat inevitably, the first came via a Roberto Soldado penalty – his fourth from 12 yards this season – while both Mousa Dembélé and Aaron Lennon broke their scoring ducks for the season. One negative point for Spurs ahead of their trip to Old Trafford was that Paulinho – who was sensational in the middle of the park against Stoke, providing flicks and tricks as well as clever passes – is going to be out for a month due to ankle ligament damage inflicted by Charlie Adam, a player who also forced Gareth Bale to the treatment room a few seasons ago, then had another go at the Welshman in a pre-season friendly in Baltimore.
8. Newcastle United – 33 points
Alan Pardew’s men started off their festive fixtures with a 5-1 rout of Stoke on Boxing Day, though they were trailing by a goal to nil until the visitors were reduced to 9 men when Glenn Whelan was dismissed for a second yellow card (which looked to be very harsh) then Marc Wilson saw red for a foul on Loic Remy in the area, another decision that seemed a little unfair on the visitors as it was a penalty, but a booking would have sufficed as it was not a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Nevertheless, Newcastle took advantage of their numerical supremacy to score five after that, but they could not carry the goal-scoring form into their weekend defeat to Arsenal and they will hope to get back on track on New Year’s Day, when they travel to West Brom.
9. Southampton – 27 points
A few weeks ago, the Saints were in third place, but a poor run of form has seen them drop out of the cluster of teams at the top and they now sit six points adrift of 8th place Newcastle following their defeat at Everton. Before that, they did pick up a win as they put three first-half goals past Cardiff, a match that proved to be Malky Mackay’s final one in charge of the Welsh club as he was dismissed following that 3-0 defeat. If Southampton are to avoid becoming completely adrift of their front-runners in the Premiership, they will need to take three points from their New Year’s Day fixture against Chelsea at St. Mary’s.
10. Hull City – 23 points
Following their 3-2 loss against Manchester United, Hull were frustrated in the first-half of their home game against Fulham on Saturday, as they were unable to break the deadlock, with Tom Huddlestone coming closest when he thundered a free-kick off the near post. In the second half of that match, the Tigers ran wild and scored six times, with Huddlestone putting on a master class in the midfield, threading balls through for the strikers and even finding the net himself for the first time in more than 2 years, meaning he will finally get a much-needed haircut. Next up comes a trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool and they will need Huddlestone to keep up his form – which could yet see him make the England World Cup squad – if they are to have any chance of doing the double over the Reds this season.
11. Swansea – 21 points
After their 1-0 loss away at Chelsea on Boxing Day, Swansea headed to Birmingham to take on Aston Villa and could only manage to pick up a single point despite enjoying 73% of the possession and having 17 attempts on goal (only 3 of which were on target). Next up is the visit of Manchester City and Michael Laudrup will be eager for his team to put some points on the board to avoid the possibility of them being dragged into the relegation dogfight, before their European campaign continues at the end of February.
12. Stoke – 21 points
Those two heavy defeats away at Newcastle and Tottenham meant it was not a particularly jolly festive period for Stoke City and things do not look to be getting much easier for them on New Year’s Day as they host fourth placed Everton. Mark Hughes’ side have been much stronger at home than on the road this year – gaining 16 of their 21 points at the Britannia Stadium – but they were thrashed 4-0 by the Toffees when the two teams faced each other on November 30th.
13. Aston Villa – 20 points
The 1-1 draw with Swansea last Saturday ended a four game losing streak for Villa, the last of which came against Crystal Palace on December 26th, with the visitors claiming the win with a last-minute strike by Dwight Gale. Wednesday’s match against the bottom club, Sunderland, at the Stadium of Light is an important one for Paul Lambert’s team, who must face Arsenal and Liverpool in their next two subsequent Premiership fixtures.
14. Norwich – 19 points
Although they played Manchester United tough last Saturday, it ended up being a pointless festive season or Norwich, who were beaten 2-1 by Fulham at Carrow Road on Boxing Day. If results continue to go in this fashion – the Canaries have won just one of their last six – then manager Chris Hughton could find himself as the 7th Premiership manager to lose his job this season, although there is another candidate to beat him to that coming up below. The new year starts for Norwich with a trip to Crystal Palace, who would move level on points with the Norfolk club if they were to beat them at Selhurst Park.
15. West Brom – 18 points
Albion got to spend Christmas week in London as they followed up their point against Tottenham with a 3-3 draw at Upton Park. Nicholas Anelka scored twice against West Ham, but the French striker could be suspended for five matches after he celebrated with a gesture that has been interpreted as being anti-Semitic, though he claims it was meant only in support of a comedian friend of his and that it is only an anti-establishment protest. Whatever the motivation for his antics – and the club should come out and punish him in some way, since the gesture has anti-Semitic overtones no matter what he claims – they could cost West Brom dear as they are yet to replace Steve Clarke as manager and Anelka’s firepower up front could have helped them over the next month as they attempt to avoid being dragged into the relegation battle. They return home to start 2014 at the Hawthorns with Newcastle United the visitors.
16. Cardiff City – 18 points
Vincent Tan decided that the 3-0 home defeat by Southampton on Boxing Day was the last straw for the always-doomed-manager Malky Mackay and the Malaysian owner parted company with the Scotsman that evening. He has yet to identify a replacement he believes in who is crazy enough to work under such conditions – the ubiquitous joke this week has been that bronzed former Hull boss Phil Brown is in the frame, since he is used to ridiculous Tans – but the job will not have become any more enticing by the Welsh side’s display on Saturday, as they threw away a two goal lead to be held to a 2-2 draw by bottom club Sunderland, who equalized in the final 10 seconds of injury time, a result which saw the owner booing his own team. I feel sorry for Cardiff fans, who would probably rather still have a club they can identify with to support, even if it meant being in the Championship without Vincent Tan, but they may be back there by May anyway if results do not turn around. That is unlikely to happen on New Year’s Day however, as they face a daunting trip to top-of-the-table Arsenal to start 2014.
17. Crystal Palace – 16 points
As mentioned previously, they had two narrow 1-0 results last week – a late win at Aston Villa, followed by a credible defeat against Manchester City – and Palace appear to be the most in-form of the teams caught up in the relegation mire. Wednesday’s visit of Norwich gives Tony Pulis’ men a chance to put a bit of daylight between themselves and the bottom three and if they can keep racking up the points now, they could avoid being demoted from the Premiership for the first time in five attempts.
18. Fulham – 16 points
Just when things looked to be going better for Fulham following their 2-1 victory away at Norwich, they get thrashed 6-0 by Hull on Saturday and their struggles look likely to continue. Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins have been brought in as part of the management and coaching structure at Craven Cottage, but what they need most is a win against fellow strugglers West Ham on New Year’s Day.
19. West Ham – 15 points
The loss to Arsenal and point against West Brom have seen the Hammers drop down to second-bottom of the table and if results do not improve, then Sam Allardyce could find himself out of job before too long. It is crucial for West Ham that they pick up at least a draw in their game against Fulham on Wednesday, defeat could be the final straw for the board and Big Sam could be unemployed early in 2014.
20. Sunderland – 14 points
Although they remain bottom of the table, it was a good week for the Black Cats who picked up four points, a total that nobody above them before Tottenham in 7th managed over their two fixtures. The 1-0 win against Everton may have come against ten men, but it was still an impressive result, as was their resolve at Cardiff where they fought to the last and picked up that much-needed point. Gus Poyet will be hoping that those two games have instilled some belief in his squad ahead of their New Year’s Day encounter with Aston Villa, which could see them move off the bottom of the table if they win.
Festive total, 9-11; Season, 101-89
Home teams listed first
Swansea vs Manchester City – Draw
Arsenal vs Cardiff – Home win
Crystal Palace vs Norwich – Home win
Fulham vs West Ham – Away win
Liverpool vs Hull – Home win
Southampton vs Chelsea – Draw
Stoke vs Everton – Away win
Sunderland vs Aston Villa – Home win
West Brom vs Newcastle – Away win
Manchester United vs Tottenham – Home win